Let’s get the message right!

Life in the Deep South is definitely different from life in say, Boston.  For one thing, most towns in the South don’t have sidewalks.  Mass transit just does not exist…it’s the car or nothing.

In the summer, it is HOT.   You have to stay indoors and you need air conditioning because it is HOT.  …and did

I mention that it is HOT!  I don’t mean 80 degrees, I’m talking about 95 degrees plus and that’s in the shade.  And it’s humid, often between 80 and 100 percent.  It doesn’t cool down at night either…you’re lucky if it’s in the 80’s at 11pm.

To cool off, it’s sweet ice tea.  If there is a public swimming pool, the water is warm as a bath and the pool is really crowded.  Most poor kids raise themselves during the day, because there is no school, no camps, no one to watch them…mom and dad are working.

Alright…the stage is set, the reader is wondering where this post is headed.  It is headed for a rant:   A rant about bullying, victimization and childhood obesity.

When I read about Disney’s recent boondoggled attempt at “addressing” childhood obesity, I wasn’t really all that surprised.  After all, I’ve come to expect insensitivity from movie producers that start their children’s movies with the child hero losing a parent.

Ads created by a pediatric hospital in Georgia are the same thing.  Just another grim reminder that medical professionals lack significant training in social determinants of health or for that matter, nutrition.  As one recent survey reveals, physicians felt the “greatest barrier to managing obese patients [is] lack of patient motivation.”  Oh really, doctors?  Then tell me, how do you explain all the money that is spent on dieting?

So another $50 million is wasted on an ad campaign telling people that the individual is the problem.  Only Disney knows the amount of money and time wasted on their Epcot debacle.

So let’s go back to the earlier description of summer in the South or a description of much of the United States.  There is little environmental support for children dealing with weight.  School physical education programs have been cut back or eliminated to reduce costs.  Snack machines and drink machines are part of today’s school setting.  Sidewalks and safe neighborhoods are the exception, not the norm, especially in low income areas.  Restaurants supersize portions and membership in the clean plate club is mandatory.  Parents in the workforce come home exhausted and rely on easy to prepare meals to make it.  Children are targeted by fast food, fatty food and sugary drink commercials.  Instead of decent grocery stores, fast food restaurants and quick stops are within walking distance of neighborhoods.  Fruits and vegetables are expensive to buy and can be time consuming to prepare.  Medications that children are required to take to be in school ‘cause kids aren’t allowed to be kids nowadays can reduce metabolic rates so it make it very, very difficult to lose weight or to keep it off.

Life intervenes.

So let’s stop talking about all these unmotivated individuals!  Bullying and branding people doesn’t help.  Instead put all that cold hard cash to good use…put in some sidewalks, clean up some playgrounds, put in a few public pools for crying out loud.

Public health, let’s get the message right.  Childhood obesity is the symptom.  The environment is the cause.


10 thoughts on “Let’s get the message right!”

  1. Terrific post! As as educator, I cannot for the life of me understand our lack of funding/support for things like the arts and physical education. Also, lunch time in school cafeterias is often hurried, not to mention the food is often not the healthiest, and recess time is limited. Kids need to move. We all do. I agree bullying and branding is unhelpful. We all need to step up to the plate and take better care of our kids in many areas. Thanks for bringing attention to this particular one. Kids need “environmental help” for sure. And sidewalks aren’t a bad place to start!

  2. If you think healthy food (fresh fruits and vegetables) are expensive, try the medical costs of diabetes and obesity for comparison. Most grocery stores offer vegetables that you only need to open a bag and start munching – maybe dipped in a light salad dressing, so prep is not an issue. Even vegetables that require a little cutting up don’t take that much time. It takes a little bit of planning. Most fruits just require a rinse. Rachel Ray has a TV show based on the concept of fresh, healthy meals in 30 minutes or less. It takes that long for pizza to be delivered – if you’re lucky.

  3. Hi Kathleen
    “Public health, let’s get the message right. Childhood obesity is the symptom. The environment is the cause.”

    I think the environment is a set of conditions we create using public policy re spending on sidewalks, etcetera. Public policy is the cause, or causal variable in my estimation.

    You are so right. I join my voice to yours. Let’s put our attention back on the determining conditions of health. Who benefits from disease promoting public policy, anyway?


  4. Mary–About 8 months ago, in a forum on LinkedIn (Health Communication, Social Marketing and Social Sciences group) there was a discussion on health literacy and social determinants of health.

    One comment by Malynnda Johnson may be enlightening:

    “I think another issue that we must take into consideration is what is affordable and available. I know as a graduate student living on a tighter budget that eating healthy cost more then eating junk. So I have to wonder, if a mother is trying to feed her family of four or five she may have all the knowledge in the world but it might come down to feeding her family for $15 at McDonald or feeding one of them for that much at a grocery store. Not to mention if you look at certain areas of the city where are the most fast food and quick marts? And where are the grocery stores full of healthy food? If you do not have the transportation to get to a store but you can walk to a fast food option which will you choose. One can then argue that many of these options DO offer healthier choices but then again 1 salad for $4 or four burgers for the same price.”

  5. Policy and environmental change are the most effective way to reduce the incidence of chronic disease and obesity. However, It’s a lot easier said than done. For example, sidewalks in small southern towns would be great, but they are expensive, too expensive for places that are dealing with more pressing problems like failing water systems, low high school graduation rates and general poverty. As you dig further you find many smaller problems like people being afraid to walk because packs of dogs are roaming due to little to no animal control. Playgrounds are possible even in small communities with the help of organizations like Kaboom. It’s a tough nut to crack, but can be done through multiple intervention programs and good community collaboration. Shaming children and parents is not the answer, teaching people how to make good choices and creating an environment that allows and supports them to make those choices is.

    1. Thank you so much for letting more people know how reducing funding for animal control can lead to packs of feral dogs which interfere with walking safely. Also I agree that installing sidewalks is expensive. It just bothers me that the organizations with the funds to spare use them for their own aggrandizement rather than for practical interventions that can improve lives.

  6. I was raised in the Deep South in a town with no sidewalks and no air conditioning in the public schools. Obesity was a minor issue then. So much is driving this trend, and you and the commenters point to many valud influencers. I would say the disparity in the cost of healthy food options in low income versus high income areas is one of our biggest challenges. It’s simply much more expensive to eat healthier options, and grocery stores in lower income areas offer fewer of those options. (See this study: http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20110804/study-healthy-eating-costs-more) Unfettered Capitalism is not solving this problem; the government everyone seems to fear and loathe is the only answer, I think, But where’s the political will for forcing better and afordable choices into areas that need them? I do not see it anywhere 😦

  7. Great article! I would also add the lure of hyper palatable foods. These manufactured foods loaded with fat and sugar simply taste better than a cucumber. That’s why just making fresh fruits and veggies available to address the food desert issue isn’t sufficient. People have to be educated about the value of healthy eating, eating to live not living to eat,etc. Lastly, it’s critical to make sure that the people were trying to help can do something very basic….cook..cook healthy…again… Great article!

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